Until 2013, Phong Nha was just a small village where some cave enthusiasts used to go and discover the wonderful caves there. It was mostly a destination for local tourists who ventured on the boat tours to Phong Nha caves or dared to go to other sites that require more adventure, like Paradise cave. Then, suddenly, foreign tourists started to flow, and two years later it had become the second most popular destination for foreigners after Halong Bay, according to Lonely Planet.
How was that possible? Well, it is no coincidence that Phong Nha is the closest village to Soon Dong, the biggest cave in the world, which was just discovered in 2009 by a team of British explorers with the indispensable help of a local man named Ho Khanh. This gave a lot of publicity to the place, and although the tours inside Soon Dong are limited and very expensive, it allowed tourists to discover the other caves around, which are also wonderful and can be trekked in one day (two or three days for more distant ones, such as Hang En or Thu Lan).
The once quiet rural village where kids died of starvation 20 years ago is now a bustling village where everyone wants a share in the tourism boom. As you walk (or better, pedal) through the main street you will go through dozens of newly born hotels and restaurants that publicize western food, pizza, beer and hamburgers, with charming spelling mistakes, seeming to be the biggest hits.
But why are we talking about this in a blog about cycling? Because aside from this tourism gold rush there is another striking fact in the country of motorbikes: most tourists move around by bicycle. All homestays and hotels offer bikes for rent and it’s common to see groups of Western boys and girls in their twenties pedaling around the town by bicycles. The sportiest ones venture into the countryside with the bikes and park them in front of some of the caves near the road. It’s difficult to find a better place for cycling: there is barely any car, you are surrounded by nature and even the climate seems to help, the mountains bringing some fresh air (except during the hottest months in the summer). If you are in central Vietnam and you like cycling, it can be a good choice. You can even try cycling there from Hue; you can rent a bike in our office there if you don’t have one with you.